Take a bizarre concept, twist it to its extreme and put it into a role-playing context. The initial thought of a game in which everyone has to play a female character was a bit scary. How many men - except when wanting to be a bit silly - are prepared to make an attempt at play a member of the opposite gender? There again, I do know some who play female characters occasionally, and I do get annoyed with people who assume my character is female just because I am. This is ROLE-playing after all!
After a rather uncomfortable introduction which takes the standpoint that there is some kind of fundamental difference between males and females, we move on to an introduction to the setting which is presented as a series of edited (and scribbled upon) textbook pages and propaganda leaflets. These suggest that the current state of affairs - an all-women society, with all men living on another continent - came about as an exercise in feminism gone very, very wrong; and that it is nothing like the 'utopia' that the powers-that-be would have women believe.
Next comes a look at differing views of the state of affairs ranging from that of the Great Council to that of the Underground which opposes them, along with a general description of female society and life. This moves on to a section on actually playing in this setting. Here we begin to see the underlying theme - it is one of questioning societal norms, pushing concepts to extremes and then thinking about the results. Surprisingly deep for a game with such a cartoonish front cover! Players will need to decide if they want an idyllic life but be lied to and know that while they live in comfort others do not, or if they'd rather work to tear it all down, and probably drag everyone down rather than allieviate the suffering of the downtrodden males... neither is presented as Right or Wrong, but they'll have to choose. There are some sidebars giving advice on how to play, including one which addresses the difficulties that male role-players might encounter in playing females - again with the standpoint that 'all men are like...' rather than recognising that gender is nowhere as fundemental in real life as it is within the confines of this particular game.
The next chapter addresses GMing Herland. It offers advice on which side of society to run as your game, depending on what you - and maybe your players - prefer, and sticks to the standpoint that there is no clear-cut choice between Good and Evil in this setting. There's also a neat introductory adventure which puts the characters on the spot, as previously uncommitted normal citizens, which can be run as-is to allow your players a free choice or skewed a little if you've already decided the thrust of your game. A few sample follow-on adventure ideas are also provided.
There follows a few appendices with useful jobs, gimmicks, weaknesses and skills that characters in this setting might need. And a QAGS character sheet tailored to characters for this particular setting.
Overall, I don't quite know what to make of this. It's a philosphically-interesting concept, to take feminism to such an extreme; but this is a game not an academic treatise. How many role-players, irrespective of gender, are going to be comfortable enough with the situation to play it? And if gaming is all about having fun, is this level of challenge appropriate? It's a thought-provoking read, though, even if you never end up playing the game.
Return to Herland: Perfect Genetic Utopia page.
Reviewed: 18 April 2009